Cornelia Parker at the MCA, Sydney

This week the Broad and a Broadfriend went along to the Cornelia Parker exhibition on at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Cornelia Parker, born 1956 in Cheshire, is an acclaimed English artist who works in sculpture, installations, paper and photographs, and has been exhibiting since the 1980s. This exhibition features a curated selection of her artworks spanning her career, and runs until February.

Cornelia Parker in parliament during her appointment as the 2017 Election Artist for the UK General Election

Parker’s work is notable for its ambitious staging, both bold and dramatic, its themes, which are by turns destructive and humorous, and her use of repurposed materials, from the everyday objects, like garden tools and silverware, to the historical in the form of the foundation stones excavated from Italy’s Tower of Pisa. Parker cites the renowned artist Marcel Duchamp, who presented objects themselves as art, as a source of inspiration. 

“I like the idea of plucking something out of its downward spiral and arresting its importance and co-opting it into a piece of work.”

Her installations have been described as destructive amalgamations, taking objects and layering, braking and repurposing the material into new structures. One of her best-known works is Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), a garden shed frozen at the moment of explosion surrounding a single lightbulb. In an interview with the exhibition’s chief curator, Rachel Kent, Parker explained her approach to the work.  

“I called it Cold Dark Matter, a scientific term that describes all the unquantifiable matter in the universe; and then An Exploded View, which is a diagrammatic thing from, say, an instruction manual, where all the bits are labelled and organised. It’s me trying to make sense of things that are unpalatable, like watching explosions daily on the news. It’s just year in, year out: a constant war going on.”

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991)
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991)

The exhibition includes another notable work, Thirty Pieces of Silver (2011), a large-scale installation of suspended and flattened silver objects, including teapots, candlesticks and dinnerware. The Tate Modern in London has both of these artworks on display, although Thirty Pieces of Silver is on loan to the MCA for this exhibition.

“I love the idea of the fragment, rather than the complete whole thing. With Thirty Pieces of Silver, the objects were all broken up into bits by a steamroller and I was trying to reconstitute them by making thirty pools of silver. The title was alluding to a different thirty pieces of silver mentioned in the Bible: Judas was paid that amount to betray Christ.”

The War Room (2015) is an entire room covered in the red offcuts from making Remembrance poppies. In all, there are some 30,000 holes, which are the negative holes to the positive of the poppy, described in sober terms by the artist as “fragments, an absence representing one human life”.

“I decided to make War Room like a tent, suspending all the material like fabric. It has two layers to it, which creates a double negative, and a moiré effect. It’s a suspended piece with four naked light bulbs hanging down along its centre.”

“The fact that the poppies are absent is really quite poignant, because obviously a lot of people didn’t come back from the First World War, and other wars since.”

The other striking installation is In Subconscious of a Monument (2001–2005) in which Parker fills a small alcove with fragments from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa (that were removed to stabilise the tower. Magna Carta (An Embroidery) (2015) is a 12-metre long embroidery hand-stitched by over 200 individuals that recreates the Magna Carta Wikipedia entry. 


In Subconscious of a Monument (2001–2005)

“The idea of religion for example is about a life, a death and a resurrection. I was brought up a Catholic so for me violence is inherent in life. My enacting violence on objects – steamrolling or blowing them up, throwing them off a cliff or whatever – that doesn’t wipe the slate clean, but it gives them two histories. It gives the object the history of whatever it’s had in the world, and then the date that I steamrolled or threw it off a cliff. I’ve amassed a lot of objects together, unified by one cathartic act, in one sort of tragicomic act.”

On Women Artists

This article from British Vogue looks at whether 2020 will be the year of female artists with women gaining prominence in major exhibitions, books, podcasts and even Insta accounts. One of the Broad’s favourite blogs, That’s Not My Age, has this post by Antonia Cunliffe on Dora Maar and Kara Walker, who both have exhibitions currently on at the Tate Modern.

On the subject of art, this long, thought-provoking article from The New York Times Magazine examines the question of whether a woman artist can ever just be an artist, without being gendered and with that, being circumscribed and lessened.

On the climate catastrophe

It’s been a long, hot and pretty terrible summer in many parts of Australia. The bushfires have wreaked havoc and caused unprecedented destruction, loss of human life, loss of an enormous number of animals, damaged biodiversity systems and created an enormous task with a huge bill for the recovery and rebuilding effort. If you’re interested in some comment from the blog on the climate emergency, have a look at this post from November last year. It includes a brief mention of the Naomi Klein book Green New Deal, a plan former Australian PM Turnbull has called for in the wake of this catastrophic bushfire season.  

TV Tip

The Broad mentioned Chan & Dee’s Drink Tank, a new independent YouTube series by Helen O’Connor (Rake 2, Crownies), Louise McCabe (The Runner Up – Adelaide Festival Fringe) and Rhonda Doyle, last year.  Raise a glass of bubbly to celebrate its official launch this week and find it on YouTube.

Chan and Dee's Drink Tank

A few friends have brought this TV show to the Broad’s attention and it is remiss of me not to have known about it already. Succession is a tale about media tycoon Logan Roy and has toxic, squabbling family. Murdochs, anyone? 

Reading Tip

Look away now if you like your feminism polite. Mona Eltahawy, who upset a few broflakes with her appearance on ABC’s Q&A last year, is through being polite about the ongoing fight against patriarchy. As she has rightly pointed out about that episode, “when a feminist draws an imaginary scenario of violence against men—there is more outrage at imaginary violence against men than at actual violence against women.” This interview with her in Vice is enlightening and worth taking the time to understand her passionate and forthright approach to her fight to have patriarchy fear feminism. 

Midlife is being reclaimed by women — artists, bloggers and even (eyeroll) Gwyneth Paltrow — in a bid to not just fight invisibility, but to show the strength and wisdom that can come through this time of ageing, menopause and a renewed opportunity for self-discovery. This Guardian interview with photographer Elinor Carucci reveals her process in creating her book Midlife. It’s an intimate portrait of her life during this period of change, that is both universal and intensely intimate. 

Book Tip

Last one for this week is The Age of Discretion by English writer Virginia Duigan about a 60-something wife who enlists the services of the men from the Discretion Agency, following her husband’s announcement that men are unable to find older women attractive. 

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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